New Taleban chief in Pakistan's tribal areas: spokesman

Maulana Fazlullah, newly appointed chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), speaking with local journalists in the Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley on 2008. The new head of the Pakistani Taleban has returned to the country's tribal areas, a
Maulana Fazlullah, newly appointed chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), speaking with local journalists in the Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley on 2008. The new head of the Pakistani Taleban has returned to the country's tribal areas, a spokesman for the militants said Tuesday, after several years based in Afghanistan. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

MIRANSHAH (AFP) - The new head of the Pakistani Taleban has returned to the country's tribal areas, a spokesman for the militants said Tuesday, after several years based in Afghanistan.

Hardline cleric Maulana Fazlullah was elected as leader of the Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) last month after his predecessor was killed by a US drone.

Fazlullah has been based mainly in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan since 2009, when a military operation ended his followers' brutal two-year rule of Pakistan's northwest Swat valley.

TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said Fazlullah was now "commanding the Taleban movement at an unknown location in the tribal areas".

The TTP and other militants have strongholds in the seven semi-autonomous tribal areas along Pakistan's rugged, porous border with Afghanistan.

Shahid's comments came after some Pakistani TV channels reported that Fazlullah had reached Waziristan.

"It is not true that Maulana Fazlullah is in Waziristan, he is in the tribal areas but at unknown location," Shahid told AFP.

Then-TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a US drone attack in North Waziristan on November 1, while South Waziristan was largely cleared of militant hideouts by a military offensive in 2009.

Washington has pushed for a similar operation in North Waziristan, currently seen as the major hub of Taleban and Al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.

Fazlullah, who has a US$500,000 (S$628,000) government bounty on his head, has mounted some brutal and humiliating attacks on Pakistan's military, including the beheading of 17 soldiers after an attack in June 2012.